This article from the San Francisco Chronicle just cries out for a paragraph-by-paragraph commentary. My snide comments are in bold italics:
New York -- Network news anchors Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings launched a defense Saturday of their embattled colleague Dan Rather, saying the intensive criticism of CBS and its top reporter amounts to a smear campaign.
Do the terms "pot," kettle," and "black" come to mind?
"There's a political jihad against Dan Rather and CBS," said NBC's Brokaw, referring to the network's reliance on forged documents to report a story challenging the president's National Guard service. "We know a mistake was made, but it's been blown out of proportion. It's an attempt to demonize CBS news. It's a demagoguery unleashed on the Internet."
"We know a mistake was made?" How about, "a colossal, indefensible whopper assembled by a very partisan producer and approved by Managing Editor Rather, followed up by a week of blatant stonewalling and even now only a halting apology?" I'm afraid this "mistake" is not so easily waved off.
Complaints about the National Guard story, which aired Sept. 8, first appeared on the Internet.The graying Goliaths of network news shared a stage Saturday before a sold-out crowd at the New York Public Library. The panel discussion was part of a three-day festival held by the New Yorker. The magazine's media critic, Ken Auletta, moderated the discussion, which ranged from bloggers to the quality of the coverage of Iraq.
Auletta asked Rather, who joined CBS in 1962, how his network came to rely on the forged memos. Rather said that he has been asked by CBS not to comment. His network has launched an independent investigation into the matter, he said.
The first smart things Rather and CBS have done in this matter: Shut up about it and investigate.
When ABC anchor Jennings broke in to say, "You never judge a man by one event in his career," applause erupted. Jennings, who joined ABC in 1964, added, "I think the attack on CBS is an attack on mainstream media, an attack on the so-called 'liberal media.' To me, when you make a mistake, you apologize. You go back and review your standards."
It is hard to choose among the many derisive responses Jennings' comments beg for. Golly, have ABC, CBS, and NBC News ever judged a man by a single event in his career? Was that not what the Bush National Guard "story" was about? And the "liberal media" is only "so-called?" Hey, Peter, substance abuse professionals say "denial" means a lack of insight into one's own problems. Maybe you have a touch of that? And the next time some public figure makes a big mistake, I am sure you will understand when he says, "Hey, when you make a mistake, you apologize. You go back and review your standards. What's the big deal?"
Brokaw, who has been with NBC since 1966 and will be stepping down from his anchor seat on Dec. 1, said that many venerable news agencies have grappled with high-profile mistakes.
"It's a very painful process, but we need to leave it to CBS to deal with the investigation," said Brokaw. "This was a mistake. It was not a political attempt (by CBS) to unseat the president."
Brokaw said that public skepticism toward the press is nothing new.
I am glad Brokaw has special insight into this incident that no one else has. I guess that's why he gets to anchor NBC's Nightly News.
"This public skepticism has been going on since the '60s. People didn't believe the press then. Now there are these young bloggers who are anti- establishment, and they write whatever they want. It's a democratization of news."
Although the influence of network evening news has taken a hit over last 10 years, the three anchors draw a total of 25 million viewers a night, Jennings said.
Peter: Remember what I said above about denial?
Jennings said that he has re-examined his coverage of the run-up to the war and regrets not asking more questions. He laments networks' general lack of investment in covering global politics and said the medium doesn't allow for in-depth storytelling.
Rather said of the early days of the war, "We did ask questions, but we didn't follow up to get the questions answered."
Yeah, you were asleep at the switch while this awful war unfolded. Just think how much better things would be if you had begun asking your typically brilliant questions earlier.
Toward the end of the discussion, talk turned to the trade itself.
"We see ourselves more as reporters than anchors," said Brokaw. "We are reporters in the souls of our beings."
Rather described journalism this way: "It's not a science. On its best day, it's a crude art. What you try to do is be an honest broker of information."
The egotism in the room while these three spoke must have been palpable. I'm just sorry I was not there to see it.